Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Yiddisher Kop and the Vision of Technion

Here is an example of a Yiddisher Kop:

After months of negotiation with the authorities, a Talmudist from Odessa was finally granted permission to visit Moscow.

He boarded the train and found an empty seat. At the next stop, a young man got on and sat next to him. The scholar looked at the young man and he thought:  This fellow doesn't look like a peasant, so if he is no peasant he probably comes from this district.  If he comes from this district, then he must be Jewish because this is, after all, a Jewish district.

But on the other hand, since he is a Jew, where could he be going? I'm the only Jew in our district who has permission to travel to Moscow.

Ahh, wait! Just outside Moscow there is a little village called Samvet, and Jews don't need special permission to go to Samvet. But why would he travel to Samvet? He is surely going to visit one of the Jewish families there. But how many Jewish families are there in Samvet? Aha, only two - the Bernsteins and the Steinbergs. But since the Bernsteins are a terrible family, such a nice looking fellow like him, he must be visiting the Steinbergs.

But why is he going to the Steinbergs in Samvet? The Steinbergs have only daughters, two of them, so maybe he's their son-in-law. But if he is, then which daughter did he marry? They say that Sarah Steinberg married a nice lawyer from Budapest, and Esther married a businessman from Zhitomer, so it must be Sarah's husband. Which means that his name is Alexander Cohen, if I'm not mistaken.

But if he came from Budapest, with all the anti-Semitism they have there, he must have changed his name.

What's the Hungarian equivalent of Cohen? It is Kovacs. But since they allowed him to change his name, he must have special status to change it. What could it be? Must be a doctorate from the University. Nothing less would do.

At this point, therefore, the scholar of Talmud turns to the young man and says, “Excuse me. Do you mind if I open the window, Dr. Kovacs?”

“Not at all,” answered the startled co-passenger. “But how is it that you know my name and profession?”

“Ahhh,” replied the Talmudist, “It was obvious.”

Just to prove that a Yiddisher Kop is not confined to men, here is an illustration I could not resist including:

Mrs. Greenberg comes to visit her son Joey for dinner.  He lives with a female roommate, Maria. During the course of the meal, his mother couldn't help but notice how pretty Joey's roommate was. She had long been suspicious of a relationship between the two, and this had only made her more curious. Over the course of the evening, while watching the two interact, she started to wonder if there was more between Joey and his roommate than met the eye. Reading his mom's thoughts, Joey volunteered, “I know what you must be thinking, but I assure you, Maria and I are just roommates.”

About a week later, Maria came to Joey saying, “Ever since your mother came to dinner, I've been unable to find the silver sugar bowl.  You don't suppose she took it, do you?”  “Well, I doubt it, but I'll email her, just to be sure.”  So he sat down and wrote an email:  Dear Mama, I'm not saying that you “did” take the sugar bowl from my house; I'm not saying that you “did not” take it.  But the fact remains that it has been missing ever since you were here for dinner.  Love, Joey.

Several days later, Joey received a response email from his Mama that read:  Dear Son, I'm not saying that you “do” sleep with Maria, and I'm not saying that you “do not” sleep with her.  But the fact remains that if she was sleeping in her own bed, she would have found the sugar bowl by now. Love, Mama.

Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor of The Atlantic magazine writes. “There is a word in Yiddish, seichel, which means wisdom, but it also means more than that: It connotes ingenuity, creativity, subtlety, nuance. Jews have always needed seichel to survive in this world; a person in possession of a Yiddisher kop, a ‘Jewish head,’ is someone who has seichel, someone who looks for a clever way out of problems, someone who understands that the most direct way — blunt force, for instance — often represents the least elegant solution, a person who can foresee consequences of his actions.”  (Mr. Trump, take note). That last point has been around for over 2500 years since the Babylonian Talmud states, “Who is wise? The one who can see consequences?”

So let’s summarize: to attain a Yiddisher Kop one requires seichel and the ability to see consequences.  Over 100 years ago, there were three young men who fully satisfied these requirements: Martin Buber, who became a world famous philosopher (although he disdained that appellation); Berthold Feiwel of Berlin – political writer and editor; and Chaim Weizmann – future first president of the state of Israel. These three were the driving forces behind the creation of an institution that has been credited with playing a significant role in the establishment of Israel. But this institution has more recently been cited as the engine that has propelled the Israeli technology industry as well as the Israeli economy.

Wikipedia explains this institution as follows: “Throughout the century – since the laying of the first cornerstone in 1912 – Technion has had a historic task in anticipating future needs in order to ensure the survival and growth of the State of Israel. According to a leading British journalist, the Technion story is exemplary for other groups caught in the seemingly impossible task of creating an independent nation: ‘For more than two decades before the state was created, Technion Israel Institute of Technology helped to lay the foundations of the modern state of Israel. The identity of the country as a player in the field of science and technology can be traced to the vision of Technion.’”

That the “vision of Technion” was illuminated by those three men, each of whom had the sechel to recognize the consequences of their efforts, is unassailable.  However, it’s questionable (see below) whether they could have imagined the incredible degree of the Technion’s influence and impact on Israel’s economy, on its reputation as a technological powerhouse, and now as a partner with Cornell University in the creation of the new Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute in New York city.

From the Jewish Philanthropy website, here is the story of how this new technologically oriented education marvel came into existence, although it is as much a story about then Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. It was his vision of a new university totally dedicated to the most advanced and innovative technologies available, one that would diversify New York City’s economy in the wake of the 2008 recession.

“He [Mayor Bloomberg] knew that incremental change would not achieve his goals for the city – that he needed an anchor to drive a transformation – and he concluded that building a new kind of research university could create a wealth of human capital and research that would turn the city into a global hub for technology and innovation.

“Mayor Bloomberg announced a competition in December 2010, through which universities would bid to open a graduate institute for applied sciences. In return, the city provided both land on Roosevelt Island and $100 million in infrastructure improvements, plus another $100 million personal donation by Bloomberg, which drew many of the world’s top research universities (STANFORD, NYU, CARNEGIE MELLON, and COLUMBIA) – a joint bid by Cornell University and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology emerged as the winner.”

As a result of a $133 million gift by Qualcomm founder Irwin M. Jacobs and his wife Joan (both Cornell graduates), the Jacobs name is now officially dedicated as the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute. Construction of the entire 2 million square foot build-out, which will span 12 acres on Roosevelt Island and house approximately 2,000 students and nearly 280 faculty and researchers, will be completed by 2043.

The Jacobs Institute represents a unique partnership of the world’s top two leading countries in high-tech entrepreneurship, adding a global perspective to Cornell Tech, combining Cornell’s commitment to discovery with impact and “any person, any study” ethos with the Technion’s global leadership in basic and applied research and reputation for entrepreneurship and startup excellence. Known as the “Startup Nation,” Israel is home to the greatest concentration of high-tech startup companies outside of the Silicon Valley.

Furthermore, Technion graduates comprise the majority of Israeli-educated scientists and engineers, constituting over 70% of the country’s founders and managers of high-tech industries.  Of the 298 NASDAQ‐listed companies listed with “non‐American origins,” fully 121 (41 per cent) are Israeli.  Of those, half (59) are led by Technion graduates and/or were founded by Technion graduates.  These Technion‐originating startup companies had a market value of $28.4 billion. (as of Nov. 2010).

In the event you are not yet impressed by the Technion’s reputational acclaim, consider this: “In September 2013 the Li Ka Shing Foundation and the Technion announced they would be joining forces to create a new institute for technology at Shantou University, Guangdong province, south-eastern China. The Li Ka Shing Foundation pledged a grant of US$130 million for the creation of the institute. The degrees taught, including Bachelors, Masters and Doctorates, will be accredited by the Technion. The total construction costs are $147 million. English will be GTIIT's the language of instruction.

In the book Technion Nation published in 2012, is described the creation of the Institute and the enormous impact and influence it has had on the Israeli economy, its company startup explosionand its contribution to Israeli safety (think the Iron Dome that was invented by Technion graduates. The book then asks, “Could Chaim Weitzman and Martin Buber have imagined any of this––67,000 graduates (2012), $60 billion impact on the Israeli economy, three Nobel prize winners and a New York Campus—when in 1901 they called for a Jewish ‘Technikum’ in Palestine? Could Albert Einstein have imagined it in 1924 when he became chairman of the first Technion Society?” Probably not!


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